How to Furnish Your Home for Less Than the Cost of a Moving Truck

Photo: kthread

During a recent move, our family decided that we could sell our furniture and buy used furniture for less than the cost of renting a moving truck. We moved into a completely empty rental house and furnished it for about $1,500. (There were major appliances already in the house.)

After you've decided to used furniture, don't back down. Buying used furniture takes more time than buying new furniture, but the time you invest in shopping around and waiting will bring huge returns. Many people end up buying new furniture simply because they get lazy. (See also: Build Your Own Furniture: 9 Helpful Tips for Non-Carpenters)

3 Essential Resources for Any Frugal Furniture Hunt

Depending on your preferences, there may be some items you'd like to buy new. Lots of folks refuse to buy used mattresses and upholstered furniture because of the possibility of bedbugs. If you want to buy these items used, you should research how to uncover those pesky pests. You can check out this Dateline story to discover how to find bedbugs.


Before using Craigslist, I was nervous about getting scammed; I'd heard a lot of horrifying stories. However, by using some common sense and a few simple tips, I found that Craigslist can be a great place to buy used furniture.

Always ask sellers why they are selling an item. I've found this to be the most important question — you want to make sure they're not selling an item because it's broken, stained, or harboring pests. There is no science to knowing the accuracy of their answer, but you'll need to trust your gut. If their answer doesn't make sense to you, then just wait for something that seems more legitimate. In our case, most of the furniture we bought was from individuals who were moving. By looking at the house, it was quite clear that their story was true.

Also be sure to ask about the history of the item; the answer could reveal potential problems.

Garage Sales

Going to a garage sale must be viewed as a treasure hunt. You never know what you're going to find. I found it frustrating going to garage sales looking for something in particular, but when I just went to see what I could find, the trips were always more enjoyable.

The good news is that when you find something at a garage sale, it will usually be cheaper than anything you'd find on Craigslist or at a second hand store. The hassle factor does pay off eventually.

Most folks at garage sales are willing to negotiate, but I found the asking prices were typically something I was happy to pay, so I skipped the negotiation step.

Secondhand Stores

When you start visiting the different stores in your town, you'll find that the prices can vary dramatically. My experience has been that secondhand stores have higher prices than either Craigslist or garage sales. Furthermore, different stores have different purposes. Some are clearly in business to make a larger profit than others; some stores are more mission-based while others are profit-based. You'll quickly discover the nature of the stores as you visit them. We spent a day visiting the different used stores in town (without buying anything) just to get a sense of which store had the best price on furniture.

The biggest disadvantage of secondhand stores (other than the price) is that it's harder to get the history of an item. You won't know if the dresser is 2 years old or 20 years old.

Tips for Buying Used Furniture

Searching for used furniture can be frustrating, but rewarding — these tips will help with your search.

Be Patient

Most new furniture stores offer the advantage of being able to find exactly what you want when you want it. However, when buying items used, you'll need to be prepared for days or a few weeks of shopping around and watching for offers.

Be Willing to Borrow or Buy a Cheap Substitute

When it came time to move into our house, we still didn't have a table. We went into the furniture store and realized that we were looking at over $2,000 for a new table and chairs. We decided to borrow a plastic folding table from family members. Even if we had to go to Sam's Club and buy one for $100, we would have been much better off in the long run.

You could also consider buying something really functional now and upgrading later. If you have a specific table design in mind, you might just pick something up for $100 to buy time, so that over the next few months you can monitor secondhand sources and try to find the exact item you're seeking.

Be Flexible

The more specific your imagination is with what you want, the more likely it is that you won't find it. In other words, a person who is looking for a dresser is much more likely to find a great dresser than the person looking for a long cherry colored dresser with five drawers and bronze handles.

Scratches Can Easily Be Covered Up

For less than $10, you can buy furniture pens. Don't pass up on otherwise nice furniture just because of issues with the finishing. If the furniture is really nice, it might be worth sanding and refinishing.

Inspect the Furniture Closely

For dressers, check all the draws to make sure they slide out well. Test tables to see how sturdy they are. Sit on chairs to feel how comfortable they are. Don't rush the inspection process.

What tips do you have for saving money on furniture?

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Guest's picture

We've found wood furniture and lamps on the street. Both can be washed down with bleach water. Rewiring a lamp is not a complex procedure and may not be necessary. I have a pole lamp that just needed spray paint. Also ask around. If someone is moving or knows someone who is, they may prefer to give something or sell it cheaply.

Guest's picture

Would love to see pictures of your apartment! Thank you for the tips.

Guest's picture

My family has found some awesome side tables and even a dresser from a yard sale. They can be goldmines if you find the right ones. Craigslist is something you have to be careful with. If you're able to check out the furniture in person before you buy it, however, it can save you a TON of money when furnishing an apartment or house.